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A powerful nor’easter in 2009 may have meant many rainy days for Virginians, but for 16-year-old Omar Jones, the storm was a pivotal childhood experience.
“I was just interested in how the weather changed so rapidly, the intensity of the rain, the duration of the storm,” Jones said.
He was so captivated by the nor’easter that he began to watch weather forecasts more closely, study models and make his own predictions just like the meteorologists on TV.
“When I watched their forecasts and how they present the weather, it made sense to me,” Jones said.
Today, Jones is the lead forecaster of Hampton Roads Weather Authority – Now, an online forecasting service he started with friends at Berkeley Middle School and expanded when he enrolled at Jamestown High School.
Jones, a junior, is a self-taught meteorologist. He learned to interpret weather patterns, created graphics and prepared forecasts on his own and with help from friends – none of whom were formally trained in meteorology.
He regularly posts narrated video forecasts on the HRWA – Now Facebook page, but since his teachers at Jamestown learned of his passion for meteorology, they have set aside time at the beginning of class for Jones to present a weekly forecast to his classmates.
English teacher Elizabeth Wilder said she learned of Jones’ forecasting when she asked students about their weekend plans. Jones said was excited for the long-range snowfall forecast to come out, and although Wilder was surprised at first, she said she was impressed by his website and forecasts.
Wilder said Jones has given four weather presentations to her classes this year.
“They want to know what to wear for the rest of the week,” Wilder said of her students. “They give him a hard time when he’s wrong but he’s not wrong often.”
He’s become so well-known for his forecasts and HRWA – Now that his classmates call him “the weatherman,” Jones said.
“It’s the presentation that they give and the energy they have with the forecast,” Jones said of the Hampton Roads forecasters in particular. “You want it to be exciting and interactive to keep people entertained.”
The most popular question he gets: “Is it going to rain today?”
Robin Cornell, Jones’ economics and personal finance teacher, said his forecasts have become more professional since he gave his first presentation during his freshman year, but even then she was impressed.
“He’s taken it to a level where it’s hard to tell a difference between what he does and what [professional] weather forecasters do,” Cornell said, adding she thinks he is more at ease during his forecasts than some professionals.
Not only does Jones juggle meteorology with his junior year coursework, but he is also studying to become a licensed minister in the Baptist church. He said while his interest in weather forecasting started when he was 10, he knew he wanted to be a minister since he was 2 years old.
“I love to preach and help people in need,” Jones said.
He said he is looking to study meteorology at Christopher Newport University or Regent University and become a weather forecaster for a television network in Hampton Roads.
“It’s not that hard to me,” Jones said. “I love the changing patterns in the atmosphere and in one minute you can see sunshine and another, rain.”
He said he sees the potential to combine his passions for meteorology and theology by studying weather events depicted in the Bible, such as the flooding that prompted Noah to build his ark.
Wilder said in her years of teaching she has never seen a student prepare more adamantly for his career, adding she hopes Jones can pursue both of his passions.
“I know that both aspects are important to him. He doesn’t have to give up one for another,” Wilder said. “You can tell how happy it makes him.”
Cornell said she shares this hope for Jones, but is looking forward to more than just knowing he’s achieved his goal of becoming a meteorologist – she wants to see him do it.
“My greatest wish for him is to be turning on the [TV] channel and saying, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s my student,’” Cornell said.